In the state of New Jersey, home to some 120,000 Arab-Americans, heated conversations about the U.S. war with Iraq can be heard in the storefront cafes and along the main streets. Relief over the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime seems clear. But what lies beneath the surface is the struggle of some Iraqi-Americans, who are trying to reconcile the personal costs of war.
Nassir Almukhtar, an Iraqi-born architect, was relieved to see American tanks topple statues of Saddam Hussein. But watching T-V images of the damaged Baghdad University he once attended and the looting of the city he loves has been tough.
Mr. Almukhtar fled Baghdad shortly before the Gulf War in 1991 to escape the pressures of joining Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party. He, his wife and two young daughters began a new life in New Jersey. He says as he learned to appreciate the American way of life, he longed to see Saddam Hussein's regime removed from power. "We did oppose the regime, of course. I think most Iraqis are happy the regime has been removed."
But Mr. Almukhtar worries constantly about his mother and five siblings in Baghdad; he has been unable to contact any of them since March 25. "I was glued to the television for about three weeks, I was very, very worried about my family, my wife's family and what was going to happen to them and every time I would see new bombing raids I can't describe the feelings that I had," says Mr. Almukhtar. "It was very worrisome."
Imam Mohammed Qatanan, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center in Passaic County, one of New Jersey's best-known mosques, says that before the war, Iraqi-Americans in his community were hopeful about Iraq's future. He says they were happy Saddam Hussein was brought down, but rue the high cost of victory. "Hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed, the communication, the ministry, everything has been destroyed in Iraq, so they are now upset about what happened," he says. "They cannot accept that price because of Saddam."
Dr. Bakir Altai, a heart surgeon from Northern New Jersey, left Iraq and his many relatives in 1977. After finishing his surgical degree in Scotland, Dr. Altai moved to the United States, embracing what he calls "an American state of mind."
Dr. Altai says there is no doubt in the minds of Iraqi-Americans that the Iraqi leader had to be stripped of power. But he is concerned about what the post-war future will hold for Iraq's 24 million people as they wait for their country to be rebuilt. "If you have a weed in your garden, you don't destroy your whole garden to kill the weed. You get rid of that weed. That's what happened in Iraq," he says. "We had a tyrant, a criminal, and we destroyed the whole country."
Still, Dr. Altai says he believes strongly in the power of American democracy -- he only wishes it could have been achieved in Iraq in a non-violent way. "The American way is to enforce democracy, to get rid of tyrants and to support freedom and humanitarian cause," he says. "That's the American way."
In the meantime, Iraq-Americans like Nassir Almukhtar and Dr. Altai anxiously await news from their families in Iraq, hoping and praying the news they receive will be good.